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Toronto Arrows adjust to new sports reality as Major League Rugby goes on hiatus

TORONTO — Like many North American sports teams, the Toronto Arrows woke up Friday and wondered what's next. Major League Rugby has joined other leagues in suspending play for 30 days because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

TORONTO — Like many North American sports teams, the Toronto Arrows woke up Friday and wondered what's next.

Major League Rugby has joined other leagues in suspending play for 30 days because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"There's just a lot of uncertainty, because this is new territory," said Mark Winokur, the Arrows' vice-president and general manager. "We're obviously unpacking the things we need to unpack in terms of flights and hotels and field space and stuff like that.

"The plan is definitely to resume play. In the best case, it's April 11. If it's not, then we'll deal with it. I think the uncertainty over what happens next and when it happens is the frustrating part."

The 35 Arrows players are on their own for the time being, albeit in contact with the team's strength and conditioning staff. Winokur hopes team training can resume in 10 days or so and prepare as if it was playing April 11.

The Arrows are working with their medical staff to provide players with do's and don'ts during the hiatus. Avoid international travel for the duration, for example.

"One of the advantages of our team is we're probably the only pro sports team in this city where most of the guys are from here. So they're already at home," Winokur said. "They're not being inconvenienced and put out. And for the rest of them, we're asking to kind of to stay put, stay by the phone."

There is a handful of Arrows players from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay.

All the players will continue to be paid during the suspension of play, Winokur said.

As for no-longer-needed hotels and travel, the league office is taking care of it. The 12-team North American circuit is a single-entity league so many of the arrangements are handled by head office.

The Arrows, second in the standings are 4-1-0, had a bye this week so the disruption to the schedule is less than most other clubs. Games at Rugby United New York (March 20) and at New Orleans' NOLA Gold (March 28) and Toronto's home opener against the Utah Warriors at York Alumni Field (April 4) have been postponed.

"We may have to juggle venues and swap out, switch (games) with somebody home and home," said Winokur. "It's too early to tell about that. But right now the plan is to resume play April 11. What exactly that looks like, at this point I can't say.

"The league did want to keep logistics as close to the original plan as possible but it's an evolving situation."

The Arrows play their home games both at York University and Lamport Stadium.

Because of the Canadian winter, Toronto was slated to play its first seven games on the road with seven of the next nine at home. The team also split the season in its inaugural 2019 season, where it finished third in the table and lost to eventual champion Seattle in the playoff semifinal.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press